The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 22, 2002
62, 656, 371, 56
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 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.” ’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 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. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Dear fellow guests at the marriage feast of the Lamb:
During the Summer 2001 Reformation tour through Europe, several of us experienced the earthly part of this parable firsthand. On the second full day in Rome, we toured the museums that are in the Vatican complex including the Sistine Chapel and much more. We knew in advance that in order to be in these buildings we had to wear long pants and shoulders had to be covered. Everyone came prepared wearing the appropriate clothing and no one ever questioned us or suggested we could not enter.
The following morning, several of us were intent on climbing to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The question was asked, “Do we need to wear pants?” It was hot in Rome and shorts would be far more comfortable. Offering my opinion that shorts would surely be acceptable for what we were going to do, we set out, all wearing shorts. But as we neared the steps of St. Peter’s we could see others being turned away at the door. When we ourselves came to the door, the man simply shook his head, pointed to our bare legs, and would not let us enter.
What to do? One of us came prepared with pants in his backpack. (He was not unlike the wise virgins in Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins.) Fortunately, for the rest of us, we were able to stop at a street side vendor and purchase a pair of pants for the Italian equivalent of $5.00. These pants were inexpensively made. They were “one size fit all” but not very well. They were black and hot and quite uncomfortable. HOWEVER, the pants served the purpose of covering our legs and we were able to go to the top of the Dome and see what we wanted to see.
Clothing does not make the person, but depending on what you wear it can cause you to stick out from the crowd. If you “dress up” at a “dress down” function you’ll be noticed and so too if you “dress down” when it is “dress up.” Some social functions will not even allow you to attend if you are not properly dressed.
This is the picture of the last of Jesus’ parables we will be considering this Advent season: The Kingdom of Heaven is like A WEDDING: Dress for the Occasion. I. Proper attire required for entry II. Proper attire provided by “the Door”
In Jesus’ parable, the king was inviting many people to his son’s wedding. He was throwing a large and sumptuous feast. This parable has similarity to Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins. In the parable of the ten virgins, the women were waiting for the bridegroom to come and take his bride to the wedding feast. In that parable, Jesus used “the wait” for the feast to illustrate His point. In this parable, it is the feast itself to which Jesus draws our attention.
The wedding feast which Jesus describes was one of great abundance. The wedding feasts typically lasted seven days during which time there would be food and drink aplenty. You might remember how concerned Mary, Jesus’ mother, was when they ran out of wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Jesus solved the problem by changing water into wine.
The marriage feasts would feature the best of everything. The king in Jesus’ parable told his guests, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready.” [v.4] Imagine a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that would last a whole week! It would feature all of the best foods, all of your favorite choices, and nothing would be lacking.
The feast in Jesus’ parable is a picture of the spiritual blessing we receive from our Savior and ultimately of eternal life with Him in heaven. The picture of a feast to illustrate this marvelous blessing is one that is fitting and used throughout Scripture.
In Proverbs, wisdom is characterized as a woman who has prepared a feast. Her preparations and invitation sound very much like that of the king in Jesus’ parable: “Wisdom…has slaughtered her meat, she has mixed her wine, she has also furnished her table. She has sent out her maidens, she cries out from the highest places of the city, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding’” (Proverbs 9:1-8).
In these words, wisdom cries out, “I have a great feast for you! It is a feast of life! A feast of true wisdom!” The feast that true wisdom offers is one of spiritual blessing and guidance from our Savior and His Word. The prophet, Isaiah wrote, “In this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees” (Isaiah 25:6-8).
Thus, we are left with the picture of a feast that would satisfy any hunger. What a perfect picture for the salvation we inherit from our Savior! A feast is something that satisfies needs. It has a great abundance and those who are present at the feast never lack. Through Christ Jesus our spiritual needs are all satisfied in the super-abundance of God’s grace. In the spiritual feast from Christ our souls are offered the very food they need. Jesus gives our souls food that truly satisfies instead of just quieting the pangs for a while. The spiritual feast from Jesus is, above all, FREE! As Isaiah writes, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:1-2).
In Revelation, the picture of a spiritual feast is completed when John writes, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).
Having Jesus as our Savior, being part of His kingdom, and looking forward to heaven is as if we have been invited to an all-satisfying, never ending feast. Every spiritual concern is addressed. Every sin is washed away. Every yearning of our soul, every worry, every doubt is satisfied in the full feast of the Gospel!
With this picture of a wedding feast we can certainly conclude, “THERE is where I want to be!!” The question is, “How do we gain entrance?” In our modern wedding “feasts” entrance is typically gained by invitation. In Jesus’ day it was by invitation, but a wedding garment was also expected. Likewise, the proper spiritual attire is also required to be part of God’s wedding feast.
God describes the proper attire for life with Him in this way: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). What allows us entrance into the Feast of eternal life with Him in heaven? Being holy. Keeping God’s law perfectly…end of story.
Holiness is the proper attire. But who has such clothing to wear? We can’t keep God’s Law. We know that we sin. So then it must be that God means that if we put forth a good effort…if we have a strong faith and “body of beliefs”…if we hold to a high standard of morality and are sincere and kind then we’ll be able to enter heaven. NO!! “Be HOLY…perfectly holy, because I the Lord your God am perfectly Holy.”
Well, then it must mean that because the commandments are so hard to keep now we can change them a little bit in this modern and enlightened age. Perhaps, they are not as stern as they once were. Perhaps, now they are not quite as far-sweeping as they used to be—this is after all the 2000s. NO!! “Be HOLY…” that is one and only garment that gives you eternal life.
The man in the parable who went to the feast without a wedding garment was standing in his own clothes and when the king asked him why he was not wearing a wedding garment, the man had nothing to say. The man went to the feast thinking that somehow he could remain in his own clothes and that was good enough. NO!! There is no way to enter eternal life by ourselves and what we do!
It is our human nature to try to EARN our way to any goal. Our flesh always wants to find self-credit for everything we do. In matters concerning our soul it is no different.
Many Christians understand that we cannot earn heaven by our own work-righteousness, and yet many times (often without even realizing it) work-righteousness gets mingled into their lives. Doing what is right is good and Scriptural. We should be bearing fruits of faith in the world, but not because this will make our chances better for heaven. We need to beware lest subtly and quietly we mingle thoughts in our minds and believe that somehow I have to be better to have eternal life. We do desire to follow God’s commandments out of love for our Savior, but not one bit of our obedience contributes to entering eternal life.
The late pastor, Egbert Schaller, once wrote a verse that corresponds with the hymn, Rock of Ages [TLH 376]. Instead of approaching our spiritual needs from the standpoint of grace as the hymn does, he approached it from a human standpoint of work-righteousness: “My own righteousness I bring and Thy cross aside I fling, nobly dressed I seek Thy face and I have no need of grace.”
What we find to be true is the Word of God from Isaiah 64. Sinners are speaking to God and say, “You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—In these ways we continue; And we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:5-6).
Some depend upon “counterfeit godliness” believing that they will enter eternal life. Counterfeit godliness is that which looks so outwardly noble, so “right” and “Christian” on the outside, but Christ and His truth are still absent. Such godliness still earns NOTHING toward heaven. Jesus, speaking earlier in Matthew said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Holiness is the proper garment to enter eternal life. We sin. Trying “the best we can” toward holiness is not good enough. Compromising what God expects doesn’t count. We can’t rely on external things. The proper garment is holiness. We don’t have it.
The people coming to wedding feasts in Jesus’ day didn’t have wedding garments either. The hosts provided wedding garments to their guests. Often the wealthy hosts would supply several robes so that the guests could change their clothes throughout the week-long feast. This practice gave gifts to the guests, but also honored the host by giving evidence of his generosity.
The anger arose in the king of Jesus’ parable because the man without a wedding garment had no excuse! He could have received a wedding garment at the door, but he refused it, he rejected it and thought he would be “just fine” in his own clothes.
In the earthly part of Jesus’ parable, the guests would have received their garments at the door. In the heavenly application, we receive the garments from the door. Jesus once said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). In another place, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The ONE way into eternal life is through Jesus, our Savior.
Jesus gives us the garment we need to have eternal life. The Apostle Paul explains how He does so: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation…For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:17ff).
Paul describes the greatest trade that was ever made. Jesus, the holy Son of God, sinless and righteous, took His “garment” of holiness and put it on us. Meanwhile, He took our garment of black ugly sin, put it on Himself, and wore it to the cross to die there for our sins. We have a garment of righteousness—the holiness that God demands for eternal life—because Christ GIVES it to us by His work of redemption. Isaiah writes, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
The first verse of the hymn, Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness [TLH 371] captures the truth of this “great exchange.” “Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are my glorious dress, midst flaming worlds(the wickedness all around me) in these (Christ’s blood and righteousness) arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head…” What a blessed privilege to have the assurance that YES! my sins are washed away. Though the world rages all around us, we are at peace and in joy because we are robed in the garment of Christ’s holiness and thereby enter the marriage feast.
The news of Jesus’ work and the righteous garments He provides are all part of the “Gospel of Reconciliation.” The Gospel is the invitation to sinners one-and-all to come to the feast which Jesus has won for us. When the wedding invitations went out in Jesus’ parable, there were excuses of every sort. “[The king] sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner…Come to the wedding.” ’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.” [v.3ff] In another parable, Jesus lists other excuses that men brought as reasons they could not attend a feast: “…they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:16-24).
There are so many excuses, but regardless of what the particular excuse is for dismissing the Lord’s invitation they all come down to IDOLATRY! They all come down to a materialism and a love for the things of this earth which sets something in place of Christ. Speaking of the rejection of sinners, God says in Isaiah, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:2; cf: Romans 10:21).
Jesus’ primary audience in the rebuke of His parable was His own people—the Jews. The Jews as a whole rejected Jesus and so the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles. The people coming from the highways who fill the wedding hall are the Gentiles and the downtrodden with whom the Pharisees and others would never associate. Although the rebuke was directed to the Jews, it remains a warning for us as well. In Hebrews we hear, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Hebrews 2:3).
Rejection leads to destruction. In the parable, the king destroyed the cities of those who murdered his servants [v.7]. Those who reject the feast of Christ will be eternally destroyed in hell. Many are called—the invitation goes out far and wide welcoming sinners one and all to the feast; but few are chosen—because so many reject the invitation. So many people find better things to do. [v.14]
We have every reason to treasure and honor the wedding garment which Jesus has given us. May God preserve us from rejecting or despising the garment and throwing it away.
Jesus’ cross, His death and atoning sacrifice give us our righteousness and that cross looms over the cradle where we see our “baby Jesus” lying. We don’t often like to think of “Stricken smitten and afflicted see him dying on the tree” [TLH 153] when we look at the Baby and sing the words of the lullaby, “Infant holy, Infant Lowly.” The words, “Oh Sacred Head now wounded with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns thine only crown…” [TLH 172] simply don’t come to mind as we’re humming “Joy to the World” [TLH 87] and baking Christmas cookies or setting up the Christmas tree. STILL…that is the purpose for which Jesus was born.
Simeon understood the purpose of Jesus’ death also in the midst of Christmas joy. When Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he spoke words that are decidedly “Christmas” in character: “My eyes have seen your salvation…a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel!” “Christmas” is written all over those words. They were a celebration of a Savior born, but then to Mary he went on to say: “Behold! This child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)…” (Luke 2:35).
The reason Christ was born was to die so that He might clothe you in the righteous garments of salvation and thereby make it possible for you to live with Him forever. You don’t need anything else for eternal life, and there is no other way to enter it.
Thus clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness we are citizens of God’s kingdom. Clothed in that garment we persevere until the harvest. Clothed in that garment we wait faithfully while the bridegroom delays. Clothed in that garment we rejoice in the equality of salvation; and clothed in that garment, our Savior will say, “Come! for all things are ready” Clothed in that garment we stand ready to rejoice in our Savior’s birth as we celebrate Christmas this week. Clothed in that garment we stand ready for our Savior’s return whenever that might be. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.