Grace mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Over the last several weeks our gospel readings have been parables, and today is no exception. A parable can be described as an earthly story, with a heavenly meaning. Here our Lord is describing for the people then and us today the kingdom of heaven. From this parable we can glean certain things which can be used to help us understand heaven, but more importantly, how to get there. This is a very good reading at this time of year since reformation is right around the corner; and this message was a key to the reformation.
To understand this parable better will need to look at the characters that the Lord has laid out for us. Some of these characters simple, but like many of the parables of Christ, some are more complex. Clearly, the “king” in our story is God. The “son” is also an easy one, it’s His son, Jesus. There are now two sets of servants to the king. They represent the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets were telling the people to repent and follow the Lord and telling the people about the coming messiah. We know from scripture that many times they were ignored and as we read in 1 Kings, Jezebel had 500 prophets put to death.
We read in the Gospel, “and (He) sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them”. Now the characters become less identifiable. Not that Jesus was confusing he listeners, but that there are more listeners now than there were when he told this parable, we are learning from it now. We read in Jeremiah 25.4, “…again and again the people wouldn’t listen to the prophets”. The people could easily be the Jews, the people that had the covenant of Abraham and then did not remain with the Lord. The people that had the invitation, but then later were too busy with their own affairs, they also could be you! You have been offered the gift of salvation, but are you pushing it back? Are there “too many things going on in your life”, to keep God number one? Are you pushing away God’s grace?
The next servants are those calling the gentiles, or the pastors of today. The king says, Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. So the king just sends them out into the streets to find people. The servants find the “bad or good”; no one is invited because of what they have done. Since everyone is a sinner, the good people are those that don’t have open sin, the bad are those with open sin; they are both invited to the wedding. The king invited them that was it; no further discussion. That’s what pastors do today, we do not judge people, and we just take the message of the Good News out to the people. That is the job of the church today; get the message out to anyone and everyone that we can. There is no litmus test; no right or wrong answers to hear the message of salvation found in scripture. The message that the church proclaims the good news, it tells people just like the wedding in our parable, it is free.
Now we come to the man that is not clothed well enough to be at the wedding. This can be a very confusing part of the parable; why wasn’t he dressed? How did he get in if he wasn’t dressed properly? Why was the king so angry? Why did he have him bound and thrown into the darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth?
In the near east, when a king or rich man had a wedding or banquet, he would provide his guest clothing fitting for the occasion. As you may know, weddings in those days could last for almost up to a week. The man throwing the party would at times provide honored guest with enough clothing to last the entire time. So apparently this man snuck in with his own cloths or his own righteousness. It appeared to be the genuine article, but not to the king that knows the difference. How did he get in? He was able to trick the servants in to thinking that his own righteousness was the Lord’s. His own righteousness was not up to the quality that the King (or the Lord) requires. That is why the king was so angry, this man was a phony. In heaven there is no sin, this man brought his sinful self-righteous self into the banquet.
What are the stumbling blocks to enter the wedding? The very same as the stumbling blocks to entering heaven, the pushing away the invitation and trying to enter because of your own righteousness. Are you denying the grace that is offered to you? Do you say “I have that sin in my past that can’t be forgiven”! Well I have read and studied the scriptures and have found nowhere that it says Jesus came to forgive “some sins”. I have found quite the contrary, in John 1.29 John the Baptist says as he sees Christ coming toward him, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”!Jesus came to forgive all sins. Are you like the first people invited that are too busy for God, do you have things in your life that are more important than God? Are you like the man depending on your own righteousness, trying to get into heaven because you’re “good”?
In the parable, the good and bad were called; they had nothing to do with their invitation. It was not their merit that gained them entry. Their entry was totally because the grace of the king, just like our entry into heaven which is totally by the grace of God. Your goodness is not what determines your invitation, it is by grace alone. That was one of the rallying cries of the reformation, “By Grace Alone”. Prior to the reformation people were being taught that it was their good works that earned them salvation. If it we are saved by works, why was Christ killed? Following the teachings of this parable of Christ, we see that it is by grace that we enter the wedding banquet and heaven.
Over the years if you have listened closely to the sermons you heard that we are saved by grace. That is because we naturally want to think we can solve our own problems and fix things ourselves. The message of scripture and therefore the message of the church is that we cannot fix our sins, only Christ can. I have often told people in Bible studies that being saved by grace, “is the hardest thing in the world and the easiest thing in the world”. It is the hardest thing in the world because we have to admit that we can’t fix things ourselves. This parable teaches us it’s not our “goodness” that permits us entry. It’s the easiest thing in the world, because Jesus fixed it for us. We read in Romans, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus did everything; it is because of his work on the cross that we gain entry into heaven.
The people that have faith in the fact that we are saved by grace and not our works are the invisible church. The invisible church cuts across denominational lines, continents and ethnicities. Not all of the saved are Lutheran, but our teachings are that of grace. That was one of the points of the reformation, to have the purest teachings possible. The message of grace is a lifesaving message. If one believes he is saved by works, he never knows if he has done enough. Knowing the grace message we are comforted by knowing someone much greater than us fixed things for us. We receive this gift by invitation from God, just like the king in the parable.
We are invited to receive this gift we don’t choose it. In the parable, nobody walks into the wedding uninvited and sits down. We don’t choose Jesus to be our savior, He chooses us. He invites everyone to be saved, the bad and the good. That is one of the reasons we baptize infants, they don’t chose it. The church brings the saving grace message that Christ died for their sins to them, the exhibit no efforts of their own. The words that are spoken at the baptism, are the words of salvation that we are saved only by the grace of God. The only works for our salvation is the works of Christ. Through baptism, the candidate is invited to the feast.
How do we see this feast today? You are in it. The Lutheran service is designed to be the closest thing to heaven without dying. Here, we hear the word of God, we sing Hymns and the sacraments are delivered. The Devil gets 167 hours a week, God gets one. This is just a glimpse of the future for those that do not push away the gift of salvation. In heaven will be peace and praise of God. The people that are in heaven will be from all different tribes, races and denominations. All are invited to this feast, whether they are bad or good.
Because of the grace of God we are saved. We will be dressed properly for this feast but not because of our own righteousness, we will be clothed by God. We read in Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” God is inviting you to the feast. Don’t push the invitation away, don’t look to your own righteousness for entry. Look to the bridegroom, the one the one that has done all the work for your salvation, Jesus.
In the name of the one that provides the invitation to heaven, Amen.
And now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.