Jesus told many parables about royal wedding feasts. Quite frequently, the friends who were originally invited to the feast refused to come and the host ended up inviting the riff-raff off the streets to come to the feast. Jesus used this kind of teaching to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is for sinners.
One of these parables can be very puzzling if we don’t understand the culture of the day. The host was a king and he had invited the riff-raff from the streets and all who came were enjoying the feast. But then there is one person at the feast who is dressed properly.
“When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11–14)
At first glance, this seems incredibly unfair. We, in our culture, would think that it is not fair to invite the riff-raff from the street and expect them to be well dressed. Maybe these were the only clothes that he had. Why invite the riff-raff in the first place if you are going to toss them out for not dressing in the latest fashion? This misunderstanding of the parable comes from a misunderstanding of the difference between the customs we know in our society and the customs of the society that first heard Jesus tell this parable.
You see, it was the custom at a royal wedding for the host to provide a wardrobe for all the guests. When you arrived at the wedding, the king’s servants would take you aside and prepare an entire wardrobe for you to wear while you attended the wedding. The king would provide everything you needed while you were his guests. It was very reasonable for the king to expect you to wear the clothing that he provided for you. The man who had no wedding garment had insulted the king by rejecting the gift of clothing for the wedding feast. When you understand this custom, the king’s anger begins to make sense.
The Bible often uses the image of clothing to represent the gifts that God gives us so that we can appear in his presence with joy and not with fear.
Isaiah praised God for the clothing of salvation. 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, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
Zechariah used the change of clothing for Joshua, the high priest, as a metaphor for the gifts God gives to us. Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. (Zechariah 3:3–5)
So we see that the Old Testament is rich in this imagery of filthy garments representing our own sins and the condemnation we deserve because of those sins. It is also rich in the imagery of new, luxurious, clean garments representing the righteousness that we must have to stand before God without fear. The imagery teaches that we are totally helpless to remove our filthy garments of sin, but that God, in His mercy and grace, removes our garments of sins, cleanses us, and then dresses us in His garments of righteousness.
The really strange thing about the garments of righteousness is the way in which they receive their righteousness. It is through the blood of Jesus Christ.
It is as the Holy Spirit inspired John to write; if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
The Apostle Peter also speaks to the blood; you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)
The Apostle Paul also reminds of the blood; in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (Ephesians 1:7)
The writer to the Hebrews also speaks of the healing power of blood; For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13–14)
The blood that all these passages refers to is the blood that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave up when He allowed mere men to torture Him with beatings, whips, thorns, and crucifixion. He gave up His blood to death, even death on a cross, in order to purify the garments of righteousness that make us acceptable in the presence of God. In fact, they make us much more than acceptable. They mark us as dear children of God our heavenly father.
The suffering and death of Jesus Christ show that He is the fulfillment of the prophecies that point to the coming of Messiah … especially the prophecies of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. By the power of the Holy Spirit John the Baptist recognized this, pointed at Jesus, and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) thus Jesus will forevermore be known as the Lamb of God.
The theme of the robe of righteousness and the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, come together in a beautiful way in the reading we just heard from the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13–14) Here we have a description of those who will remain in God’s kingdom forever. The filthy old rags of their sins have been removed, and they have been given new clothes … clothes that have been cleansed by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ who is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
This past year, two saints from this congregation said good bye to life in this world: Marie and Bob. Both of them regularly confessed the filthy rags of their sin. Both of them received the Gospel of Jesus Christ along with the water of Holy Baptism. Both of them regularly heard the Gospel as it was read and preached to them. Both of them took the Gospel into their mouths as they ate the body and drank the blood of their savior. Both of them received robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ has called them out of this veil of tears to Himself in heaven. There they wait for the coming of the Last Day with all the saints.
On that Last Day, God will raise all the dead and transform the decaying dust of our flesh into a new, immortal body. God will destroy this present, sinful earth and replace it with a new heaven and earth. There, all who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins will live with Him and enjoy His presence forever. Amen
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