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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:1-14

October 15, 2023

Did you catch those words in our introit today? “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”

Did you catch those words in our Epistle today? “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [will cover] your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch Jesus’ parable today in our Gospel reading? See, all the readings and Propers today are connected and are teaching us something wonderful about the Kingdom of God. And I think the best way to expose this wonderful teaching is to simply walk through the parable.

So, there is a king, and his son is getting married, and the king wants to throw a wedding feast. This is totally normal and even proper. We do the same sort of thing today. When a son or daughter wants to get married, the parents often get very involved in the planning and preparation of…pretty much everything, including the banquets and the dinners and the reservations and all that.

In the parable, the king has servants and naturally kings have servants, and he sends these servants out to whomever it was that was initially invited to the feast. But something very strange happens. Those invited won’t come. Perhaps they don’t like the king, perhaps they don’t like the king’s son or his bride to be…it doesn’t say. But the king has put a lot of work into preparing this feast, so he sends out the servants again in a more personal way, to personally tell those invited that everything is ready, the tables are set, come and join in the celebration.

Again, strange response. Some went off to their farms, others went back to their stores and businesses, and stranger yet, some mistreated the servants the king sent and even killed them.

Naturally, the king is angry. Rather than sending weak servants to deal with those folks, he sends his army, and he burns down their city and wipes out those murderers. He gathers the servants – those who are still alive – and he tells them to just go out and invite anyone and everyone, the good, the bad, the ugly, whomever and of course the wedding hall is filled with guests.

Now, if Jesus would have ended the parable right here, it would have been enough, but He goes on. The gracious king starts to make his way through the hall to look at the guests. He sees a guest who isn’t wearing the proper attire, the proper wedding garment. He kindly asks the person, “how did you get in here dresses as you are,” and the guest has no answer. The king has him thrown out into the darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus ends the parable with these words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

So, other than the king inviting anyone and everyone – because the people he originally invited refused to come – there is nothing atypical about this parable. Yes, this sort of wedding feast happened all the time. Yes, the guests were to wear certain garments, garments in fact provided by the host to show they were supposed to be at the wedding feast, and those who weren’t wearing the proper garment were thrown out. Yes, they were often grand affairs, lasting for days. Nothing out of the ordinary about the feast itself.

The two things that are sort of odd are, again, the guests themselves and how the king threw out the improperly clothed guy, not just out the door, but out of life itself, into the place of darkness.

Well, let me explain the parable and maybe we’ll understand. The king, of course, is God. The kingdom, of course, is the kingdom of God or eternal life with Christ. The wedding feast is the Day of the Lord, the day of judgment. The servants are God’s messengers, the prophets, the apostles, priests, pastors, all those who faithfully proclaim His Word to the world.

Now the guests. The first set of guests represents Israel and how God had sent prophets and teachers to Israel over and over again and they kept rejecting their message and even killing His prophets. God was generous to them. This is seen by how God went to them more than once with His offer. But they rejected and because of their sins and rebelliousness, God let Irael fall to the Babylonians, then to the Persians, then to the Alexandrians, and finally to the Romans.

Well, there’s a lot of reporting going on right now about Israel, isn’t there? We have all heard about the war going on between Gaza, the Hamas terrorists, and Israel. Bombs are flying every which way, people are dying, buildings and cities are being destroyed, and as usual, every time there’s a conflict in Israel, who always starts to speak up? The “prophets of God,” the evangelists, the soothsayers, and they’re all saying, “This is prophecy being fulfilled, this is Revelation 18, this is Daniel 22, this is the great battle before the end,” and they do this EVERY SINGLE TIME. And this pattern goes back to, really before World War I. There were plenty of false prophets decrying, “It’s the end of the world,” during WWI, and plenty more during WWII. I wasn’t alive, but 50 years ago there was a war called the “Yum Kippur” war, and lo and behold, there were prophets crawling out of the woodwork quoting Revelation chapter this and Daniel chapter that and Ezekiel chapter some other, all saying that it was the end, that it was prophecy fulfilled.

Then the wars ended, and the Lord didn’t return…and those prophets just disappeared back into the walls along with the stacks of money they made from their false preaching, and no one held them to account.

Be careful who you listen to, folks, because there are a lot of people out there and a lot of false teachings out there that will make every event that involves Israel sound like it’s major biblical stuff.

Be careful. Just because there’s another war in the middle east doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Take everything you hear on TV or on YouTube or on Facebook with a grain of salt, and rather than listening to men who make millions off their millennial musings, go to the Scripture and test the spirits.

The only way the Jews will be saved is by faith in Christ. They don’t have a special way of salvation; God does not save the nation of Israel in some other way, and this parable is pretty clear on that. In the Book of Romans, after St. Paul explains why God rejected Israel and opened salvation to the Gentiles, Paul writes, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, Israel, the Jews did not submit to God’s righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Anyone who continues to pursue a righteousness, to pursue salvation by a way other than Christ and His covering cannot be saved and it matters not if he is a Jew, a Gentile, a slave, a freeman, a man, a woman…it must be by faith.

And the first invitees in the parable rejected the offer, see? God offered them salvation and entrance to the great heavenly feast, but they rejected, and not only did they reject, but they murdered His prophets and apostles and pastors and preachers.

So, what does God do? He tells His servants, his pastors and priests and preachers to preach His invitation to the whole world. Jesus gives this mandate to His Apostles in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We see the first example of this mandate carried out in Acts 2 where Peter preaches repentance and faith to the Jews, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

After St. Paul got frustrated with the Jews for refusing the message, he instead began his ministry among the Gentiles, calling the whole world to repentance and faith. And ever since, the invitation to the great feast of heaven has gone out to the highways and byways, to all people of all ages and ethnicities, and it is always the same invitation, the same message: repent and believe, die to your old self, and live in the righteousness of Christ.

The message, the call goes out to all people, and many respond and are clothed in the right garment.

But when the king comes and walks among His chosen, He notices a person not properly dressed. “Friend,” he asks, “How did you get in here?” And then the unkempt person is thrown out into the darkness.

See, the Jews, they rejected, and they continue to reject the invitation. Some Jews will hear and believe; they’ll repent and turn to Christ and worship the one true God, but most will not. This is Paul’s lament in Romans 10 and 11. But even among the rest of us, the Gentiles, it so happens that sometimes people try to slip in for the wrong reasons.

You cannot wear your own choice of clothing to the great feast of heaven. In other words, it is not by your works, your goodness, your church attendance, your devotion, how much money you put in the plate, it is not at all by your works or efforts that you are brought into the feast of heaven. But it is only by the work of God in Christ that any of us can be saved.

The man who slipped in unadorned believed himself worthy enough on his own to be at the feast. But the king said, “no,” and threw him out. Anyone who thinks he can earn his way to God’s favor by his own works will be utterly devastated on the Last Day when God judges him a sinner and throws him in hell.

For we live in a society hellbent on trying to earn salvation, where individuals are so terrified of God’s wrath that they think denying there is a God, a heaven, a hell will somehow save them. Hell, the outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, has become sanitized. Few, even among Christians, even believe in hell anymore. Fewer still believe there is a devil. But what we believe about something isn’t what makes something exist. God exists because He does and our believing in Him or not believing in Him doesn’t change that. The devil exists because he does and our believing or not believing doesn’t change that. Heaven and hell exist and our believing or not believing doesn’t change that.

People will go to hell because the Scripture says it, and they will go because they were not adorned in the right garment or because they rejected the invitation to the great and eternal feast of heaven.

You have loved ones, I do too, who you know reject Christ. Rather than living by the truth of God and His Word, they reject God and instead live for themselves, for their passions and lusts and greed and for the enticements and promises of the fallen world. They think they can find happiness by living according to the world or by giving into the lusts of the flesh when all the while they’re just enslaved to the devil, and they don’t even know it.

They’d much rather reject God’s prophets, His church, His Word, His own Son and live as if God is far out of the picture, His Law is meaningless, and His invitation lost in the mail. “Oh, we’re too busy with work, with school, with friends, with dating, with life! Surely God won’t punish us for just wanting to live our lives! Surely we can come to the great feast of heaven without the robe of Christ’s righteousness; we can show God that we deserve His acceptance because we were never all that bad.”

But if this is what you think of Christ and His eternal feast, that it’s about being “good enough to get in,” then you won’t get in but you will be thrown into the darkness forever, and no amount of money in the plate or promises to the pastor or really committing yourself to getting to church more will change the outcome because you are rejecting the invitation and the garment offered in Christ.

And this is what most of the world does, and it is what many among the churches do without even knowing it. They come with their works and efforts and dress in the façade of righteousness, but like Adam, like Eve, God sees past their feeble attempts at covering their shame and he casts them out of paradise.

This parable is a warning, not only to the Jews who rejected Christ, and still do to this day, but to us. We cannot live our lives in a state of rejection of God’s invitation. We cannot say, “I’ll have time later, I’ll be more committed when I get out of school, when I get married, when I settle down, when it’s more convenient,” because we do not know when the doors to the feast will be forever closed. We cannot try to get in by our own means or own works.

The invitation has gone out, God has called all people, you and me, to repentance and to faith. To reject this invitation is to reject Christ. To tell God, “I have no time, no interest, no need for Your mercy” is to reject Christ.

But here’s the thing. Those who were initially invited to the feast would have received a letter of invitation. And still today, the betrothed send out formal wedding invitations to all whom they choose to invite. And those invitations clearly show the date, the time, the place, along with any other important information attendees must know.

And see, the wedding invitation, this IS the Gospel! It means you are called, you are invited, that among all the people of the world, the king chose you.

And what does your invitation say? It says, “sir, ma’am, do not arrive dressed in your own clothes; do not ‘come as you are,’ but let me provide you a suitable garment.” And what is the garment which our God and Father provides for each of us? It is the righteousness of Christ. By ourselves we are but bruised and broken and ragged and weak sinners who are so ill-prepared for any royal, heavenly wedding feast. But clothed in the Righteousness of Christ, we are perfectly and abundantly prepared to enter into the hall.

By His death, we are made whole. And the invitation also tells us how to receive the righteous garment. It says, “believe that my Son has paid for your entrance.” This is what St. Peter means when he says, “Baptism now saves you,” and what St. Paul means when he writes, “We are saved by grace through faith, and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works.”

The invitation also says when to arrive at the door of the wedding hall. It says, “be ready and be robed at all times.” We don’t know when the end will come, when the Lord will return to judge all men. So we are told to always be ready. In about a month you will hear the Parable of the Ten Virgins who, rather than being ready to meet the bridegroom before the wedding day, five of them slacked off, didn’t trim their lamps, and got distracted by other things. They weren’t ready, and they weren’t permitted entrance into the wedding feast.

But God has told us to be ready, to be alert, to be wise. It’s easy to get distracted, to let the cares and concerns of this life lure us away from what’s really important. But robed in Christ’s righteousness and filled with the Holy Spirit, we have every reason to stand ready and to use what little time we have wisely.

And since God doesn’t determine who He chooses for the feast based on ethnicity or race or bloodline, on works or merit or commitment, but that His Gospel invitation goes out to all people throughout the whole world, we can be thankful that He has called us, invited us, and chosen us to feast with His son and be robed in the proper garments of salvation.

Let us therefore repent of our nature of distractedness, of busyness, of making worldly things more important than the great feast to come and let us repent of trying to attain entrance to the feast through our works or futile efforts. Instead, let us hold fast to the righteousness of Christ our savior whose blood covers our sins and makes us right and clean and well-prepared for not only the eternal feast of heaven, but the feast set before us today in the Supper of our Lord. Amen.