October 13, 2013 A+D
St. Matthew 22:1-14
Rev. Michael N. Frese
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. John records for us the inner workings of heaven that God showed him through divine revelation. He writes: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”– for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-9).
The Marriage supper of the Lamb is the source of the Hallelujah’s and rejoicing in heaven. The Bride is clothed with linen, bright and pure. Those who are invited are blessed.
Jesus’ parable this morning gets to the heart of heaven. It carries an urgent tone. He is being confronted by the chief priests and elders during the week preceding his passion. His earthly preaching and teaching is drawing to a close and He is pulling out all the stops. He is giving them a picture of heaven very much parallel to the one He would give St. John years later. The heavenly Bridegroom has come to claim His Bride. He has not come to abuse her, use her, call her names, take advantage of her, make fun of her, or enslave her. He has come to adorn her with holy garments and make her clean and pure, to take her out of her terrible circumstances and give her more than she could have ever dreamed. This long-anticipated wedding causes rejoicing in heaven. It makes the Father beam. He wants the feast to match the joy of the union. Therefore the invitations to the guests have gone out and the preparations for the banquet are completed.
The first invitation went out to Adam and Eve after the Fall. God himself invited the first people to the wedding. And even from the beginning, there was anticipation for the Son to leave His Father and come to be one flesh with His Bride. From there, the patriarchs and prophets continued to send the invitations to family, friends, and foreigners alike down through the ages. People knew the wedding was going to take place and many longed to see it and prayed for its day.
But at the same time that God was sending out invitations, Satan was sowing seeds of resentment and discord (antipathy). The squabbles that happen around weddings and funerals in your family were nothing compared to this. The devil, the world, and sinful flesh took up sides against their maker and creator. The distractions of life had turned the hearts of some to other gods, other goals. So some made light of the invitation and went their own ways, one to his farm, another to his business, and as St. Luke adds, another to his own wedding. They were not angry, they did not have ill will toward the Father. They just didn’t believe that it was worth their time, so they chose to go elsewhere.
The rest of the invitees seized the messengers and treated them spitefully and killed them. The devil, the world, and their sinful nature had so deluded them that they considered the Father their enemy and the wedding for His Son an act of all-out war on them. It was irrational, it makes no sense. But the nature of their unbelief was so vicious, that they were willing to kill in order to try and stop it.
And so we have the two most common worldly responses to the Gospel invitation: apathy and hardened, militant unbelief. You fell into one of these categories before you believed and were baptized. No one is without excuse. The invitation has been sent; everyone knows what it is. The prophets and disciples went out and preached everywhere (Mk 16:20). Every creature under heaven has been touched by the invitation (Col 1:23). No one has NOT been invited, whether good or evil. It doesn’t make since that people reject it. But unbelief is not rational.
The third rejection in this parable is the most common response from within the borders of the Church. The guests are all reclining at the table and the Father spots one man who does not have the wedding garment on. This is the hypocrite or heretic within the community of the Church. This is the person who only wants to take God on his own terms, who wants to dictate to the Father how things should be at the wedding. He says, “I will come to your wedding banquet, God, but I don’t need to follow your rules. I don’t have to commit myself as if it’s the only party in town. I don’t have to take it that seriously—as if my life depended on it, as if the lives of my children depended on it. I have choices. Let’s not pretend that your way is the only way. I can have my sin and this feast too. This feast only lasts for an hour out of my week. I’ll give you that and then I have other important things to do. Don’t expect me to wear your weird garment around my friends, around my job or school, or around my house. Don’t expect this feast to change the way I think, talk or the way I act. People would think I was strange, and I don’t want to be THAT guy.”
So while feigning fellowship at the banquet, there is no repentance or confession of sin. There may even be reliance upon his goodness or at least his “betterness” than others. He can’t be that bad. At least he’s not the worst person he knows. Yet his end is described as the worst. He is bound and cast out into hell.
This parable is supposed to jolt us out of spiritual apathy and even pull us out of crass unbelief. The intended goal of Jesus’ parable is to bring people to faith. He wanted the Chief Priests and Pharisees to believe. He wants you to believe. If we only focused on the three forms of rejection of the Gospel, we would never come to faith.
We are shocked by the wrong things. We’re surprised that people had better things to do. We’re shocked that others dared to mistreat and kill the messengers. And we’re downright stunned and taken aback that the Father throws someone out. But what we’re tempted to overlook is the shock of the Gospel. God has become man. The invitation goes out to those who don’t deserve it. Jesus is a Bridegroom coming out of His chamber to claim an unworthy Bride. Despite her inherent flaws, He comes and claims her. The wedding is complete without your contribution. God has done it all. It is finished. God has invited, He has prepared, He has come, He has made His Bride pure, holy, clean, and worthy. And in an even more shocking twist, He is not only the Bridegroom, but also the Feast. He has sacrificed Himself for the Bride and given her His own flesh to eat and His own blood to drink. She is washed in His blood for her redemption. She feasts upon Him for her life.
And lest you miss the most gracious twist to this picture of heaven, the most felicitous part of the parable, the most shocking aspect of the Gospel, you we are clothed with the wedding garment of repentance and enter into the banquet hall, you find that you are not guests to this wedding. You are the holy, Bride, “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright” (Rev. 19:8). You are the one for whom He came, despite your former apathy, rebellion, and hypocrisy.
For St. John records: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed.” (Revelation 21:9-12).
Your names have been recorded on the gates of heaven. You are the true Israel, you are the holy City, a people chosen by God and set aside for His dwelling. The wedding feast is in your honor. The hosts of heaven rejoice over you. Come and dine upon your Bridegroom and live with Him forever.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana