Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
In our Gospel text Jesus tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like: God the Father makes a wedding feast for his Son. He sends out his servants to those who have been invited, saying, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; he who has no money, come and eat; delight yourselves in rich food, that your soul may live. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Everything is prepared and stands ready. Come to the wedding feast!” (Isa 55:1,2b,7; Mt 22:4b).
This is an offer that sounds too good to be true. He who has no money, come? Everyone who thirsts, drink freely from the water of life? All who don’t deserve it, come and be filled with good things? God the Father who created you invites. God the Son, who redeemed you with his blood invites. God the Holy Spirit, who spoke by the prophets and the apostles invites. Wouldn’t everyone come running? But Jesus tells us that those who had been invited would not come. They exercised their free will and said to God’s invitation: No thanks, I don’t need your charity. I’m a good person; I’ll make my own way.
There are two kinds of people that spurn the invitation to the wedding feast: The first group is very polite. “I’d love to come, but I’m too busy. I just got married. I have some business to take care of. I just bought a new house or a new car. Next week, perhaps…” Don’t we see this today! Where are all the young people who were baptized and confirmed in churches all over the country during the last twenty years? Where are they? Many of them are too busy with sports, with careers, with life to come to the wedding feast. But most of the time they aren’t rude or antagonistic. If they saw the messenger of Christ on the street, they would smile and wave. But they have no need to come to the Lord’s Table and receive of his bounty. They aren’t angry. They just don’t care.
The second group that spurns the invitation is not polite at all. They are angry at Christ and his messengers. They can’t kill Christ again – he is seated at the right hand of the Father – but they can kill his messengers, and they do. In every generation of human history, the faithful servants of God are persecuted, treated shamefully, and killed. Why does the invitation to the eternal wedding feast arouse such anger and hostility? For two reasons:
First, the invitation declares the truth about our sinful condition. “You who have no money, come and eat!” “Are you telling me that I am spiritually bankrupt?” Yes. That’s exactly what God’s Word says. “Are you saying that I am a poor, miserable, sinner?” Yes. In fact, sinful man is not just poor. He is destitute. He has nothing good to offer God; he is incapable of keeping God’s law, and he has no hope of salvation apart from the cross of Christ. The Word of God tells us that our own righteousness is as filthy rags. Nearly everyone can admit to having a few problems, but sinful man does not want to hear the truth about the depth of his corruption and depravity.
Second, the invitation is offensive because Jesus claims that there is no other way into heaven. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). “Well, that seems pretty narrow.” Indeed, it is. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:14). These are offensive words, but Jesus doesn’t apologize. Instead, he says, “Unless you eat of my body and drink my blood you have no life in you! Come to the feast! Everything is prepared.” At these words many of the Jews who had been following him said, “These are hard words. Who can listen to this?” And many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Jesus (Jn 6:60, 66). Most of the people in God’s chosen nation rejected Christ and his words. They refused the invitation.
But God is patient. We see this in the parable. After the invited guests refused to come, the king sent them more messengers, who repeated the invitation. God desires that all men would be saved and enter the wedding feast. But there is a limit to his patience. The door of grace will not stand open forever. Every nation that rejects the Gospel pays a price. This gives God no joy; in fact, Jesus lamented over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. But it did come. “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Mt 22:7). Ancient Israel denied that her own righteousness was filthy rags. She did not hunger and thirst for the righteous of Jesus. She despised the offered wedding garment, thinking that the clothing of her own good works was good enough. And before the generation that rejected Christ passed away, the Roman army came, destroying the holy city and slaughtering its inhabitants.
After God’s chosen people refused to come to the marriage feast, what did the King do? He sent out his servants once again, telling them, “Go invite anyone you can find – both good and bad. And so the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Mt 22:8-10 alt). God doesn’t make a distinction between Jews or Gentiles, or between good people and bad people. He invites all to his table: “Come! Let the wicked forsake his way; let him return to the Lord, for he will abundantly pardon.”
And so here you are. You have heard the invitation of the Gospel. The faithful servants of the King have delivered the message to you: “Come, for everything is ready!” Were you one of the good ones or one of the bad? The truth is, there are no good ones. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). There is none righteous, no not one. Every one of us enters the kingdom of God only by the goodness and mercy of Christ. Many people think that being good or bad is what determines whether you go to heaven, but that’s not what the Scriptures teach. When the king comes to look at the wedding guests, he only cares about one thing: “Are you clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ?” God doesn’t ask, “Were you a good person?” If he did, the answer, of course, would be no! Instead, his only question is, “Are you wearing the wedding garment that was given to you at your baptism?” That is all the matters.
When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless (Mt 22:11-12). How did this man dare approach God dressed in his own garments, and not in the robe of Christ’s righteousness that was given to him at the entrance? Woe to him who rejects Jesus and then faces the Father speechless. The king ordered that man to be bound hand and foot and thrown out into the outer darkness, into hell. For many are called, but few are elected.
What does it mean to not be one of the elect? It means to reject God’s invitation. Whether by indifference, violence, or spurning Christ’s righteousness, many who are invited will refuse to come. Thanks be to God that he has elected you to salvation. By the grace and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit has overcome your sinful nature with all its indifference, violence, and pride. You were joined to Christ by baptism, and you stand clothed in his perfect righteousness. Invited by God to the wedding feast of his Son, chosen and elected by God himself to be clothed in his righteousness, there is no greater honor than that in all the world. And when the Day of Judgment comes, you will stand before the king without fear, clothed in the perfect righteousness of his Son, your Savior. And God the Father will say to you, “Welcome to the marriage feast that has no end.” Amen.