Today's Gospel is still part of the conversation that began when the high priests and elders asked Jesus about His authority. It is probably Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus continued to use parables as He taught. This time, the parable is about a royal wedding. The traditions of first century royal weddings are very different from our modern traditions. One of the ways to understand a text like this is to imagine the same customs as they might happen in our time and place. So, imagine a first century Israeli wedding transplanted into the 21st century. And you are there.
One day, a special courier shows up at your home with an invitation from the royal family. The king and queen would like you and your family to attend the wedding of the prince. The courier explains that you and your family will spend ten days as royal guests. The courier waits for your reply and you say, "Yes, of course!" Then you and your spouse get out your appointment books and re-arrange your calendars so that you can attend.
The day arrives and a limousine arrives for you and your family. The chauffeur seems a little nervous. You ask what's wrong and he tells you that some of his friends were killed when they went to pick up some of the other guests. The king sent his guards to arrest the murderers and hold them for trial. Why would people kill a chauffeur when all he wants to do is escort them to a once in a lifetime event? Thankfully, the limo takes you to the airport. A private jet takes you to the royal airport. Another limo takes you to the wedding hall. The wedding hall staff escorts you to a luxury suite for you and your family. Even though it has been an exciting day, you and your family are exhausted. Soon, everyone is off to bed and asleep.
The next morning, after breakfast, a very familiar looking man approaches you. "Good morning," He says, "I hope you had a good breakfast. My name is Giorgio. The king has commissioned me to supervise the wardrobe of his guests." He then motioned to a woman standing next to him, and said, "This is Sarah. If the ladies in your party would follow her, and the gentlemen would follow me, we will introduce you to our staffs who will prepare the clothing you will wear at the celebration." You suddenly realize that Sarah is the same Sarah Burton who designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress, and Giorgio is Giorgio Armani. The king is giving you wedding clothes designed specifically for you by two of the most famous fashion designers in the world.
A few days later, all is ready. Servants arrive in your suite to work on your appearance. It's like a morning at the spa. They work on your hair, give you manicures, pedicures, and so forth. About noon, other servants bring your new wardrobe and help you get dressed. You and your family look like a million bucks. You are ready to go to the wedding.
The wedding is everything that a royal wedding can be. The prince is dashing. His bride is gorgeous. The king and queen are elegant. There are orchestras, choirs, a pipe organ of course, and all the clergy of the land in attendance.
After the wedding, there is a marvelous reception. World class chefs have prepared their best food. The best wine of the royal vineyard is there. The best musicians of the land take their turn in the dance hall. It is all marvelous. As you take in the sights and the sounds around you, you wonder how it was that you and your family were so blessed to be in this place at this time.
Suddenly, there is a disturbance. You hear the king shout, "Guards! Detain this man!" As you move to get a better view, you see a man standing before the king and he is definitely not wearing Armani. Amidst all the elegance of this wedding celebration, the man looks very shabby. Then the king said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' (Matthew 22:12) Although the king had given clothes to everyone and commissioned some of the best fashion designers in the world to design those clothes, this man was wearing casual street clothes. What an insult to the king and his generosity. The king had the man arrested and taken away.
That is how someone might tell the parable if it happened today instead of back in the first century. The big difference is the emphasis on clothing and fashion in the 21st century version. When Jesus first told this parable, he was talking to people who knew that a king always provided special wedding clothes for his guests. When a king held a royal wedding, he not only provided lodging and food for his guests, but he provided special clothes for them as well. Jesus did not have to mention it because everyone who heard him knew that this is how it was done.
So what does this parable have to teach us today? It is very easy for us to look through the pages of the Old Testament and see the many ways that people rejected the prophets. We hear how the people put the prophets in prison, drove them out of their homes, and put them to death, and we rightly condemn such activity. We hear that of the original twelve apostles, only John died of old age. All the others died martyrs' deaths. We wonder at such cruelty and once again, condemn it. It is very easy to point a finger of condemnation at people who lived long ago and far away, but what about you and me. What does Jesus say to us today?
You are gathered in the king's wedding hall right now. The smallest chapel … the largest cathedral … they are places where God comes to be with His people. This is the place of the wedding feast of the lamb that John described in Revelation. 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. 7Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Revelation 19:6-9)
The man who refused to wear the king's clothes is a warning to you and me today. The king condemned him because he refused the king's clothes. How are we dressed?
Imagine what this man had to do to get into the wedding hall without the right clothes. When he arrived, the servants of the king came to him and offered to clean him up and heal his wounds. They offered him clothing that was just the right style for the feast. They wanted to give him everything he needed to fully enjoy the wedding banquet of the king. The servants offered it all and he refused. He insisted on doing things his way instead of the king's way. He insisted on wearing his clothes instead of the king's clothes. He entered the wedding hall, but rejected the gifts of the king.
God wants to remove the filthy fashion of sin and clothe you in the heavenly style … the robes of Christ's righteousness. Hear the words that the Lord gave to Isaiah and that we read earlier in the Introit. 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)
The righteousness of Christ is a very expensive style. Jesus had to buy this style with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. When Jesus shed His precious blood on the cross, He washed away your sin and covered you with the righteousness of His holy life. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only style that is elegant enough for eternal life. It is the only style that you can wear to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Sadly, Jesus teaches that there are those who reject the style of heaven. Jesus says that there will always be some in the banquet hall of heaven who insist on wearing their own clothes … their clothes of arrogance, narcissism, self-righteousness, adultery, hatred, and so forth. The old sinful nature insists that he is good enough. He has no sin. He does not need the heavenly style of the righteousness of Christ. His style is just fine. "Besides," the old sinful nature will say, "A loving god doesn't really send people to hell."
Jesus tells it differently. The party crasher may have been able to fool the servants, but the servants are not the ultimate judge. We must all stand before almighty God. There is but one verdict for those who trust themselves and refuse the clothing of the righteousness of Christ. Then 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.' (Matthew 22:13) Those who reject Christ, reject salvation. Those who in any way depend on their own efforts for even the smallest fraction of their salvation will meet the king and He will order them out of the wedding hall.
The king said to his servants, 'Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' (Matthew 22:8-9) It is a different story for these. The Holy Spirit works through His precious gifts to bring them to the wedding hall and wash away all their sins. He covers them with the righteousness of Christ … the righteousness earned on the cross. The day will come when they, like Christ, will rise from the dead and enter the wedding feast of the Lamb. There they will receive the fulfillment of today's Old Testament lesson:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8) They will rejoice at the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. Amen
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