And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
"For many are called, but few are chosen."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Many are called, but few are chosen. Familiar words, but frightening words. Every time I read them, I am beset with the question how can I know? How can I be sure that I am one of the chosen?? Where am I supposed to find my security from doubt and fear? These words of Jesus suggest something that is horrible to contemplate; some who are called to be Christians are not chosen for eternal life. Immediately that "Monster of Uncertainty" about which Luther wrote so often and so eloquently, begins to raise its head.
Jesus tells this parable to the Jews, and then through the Apostle to us. He means for us to understand something, . . . but what? This is our Gospel lesson, this morning, so I invite you to join with me and consider the words of Jesus, and discover what lesson there is for us in this parable. Let us, then consider our Gospel under the theme, Many are called, But . . ..
This parable is another parable aimed at the Jews. Remember, parables were not always spoken to make a thing clearer, but sometimes as Jesus said that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not hear. To us, Jesus said, it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom. The King in this parable is God. The wedding feast is salvation, consummated in heaven. It is the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride, the Church
Those who had been invited to the wedding feast, but were unwilling to come were the Jews, the Old Testament people. His servants were the Prophets. They were sent out to proclaim the good news of the love and mercy of God. They invited the Children of Israel to trust God and live in His goodness both in this world, and in eternal life. But, as the text says, they were unwilling to come. The pleasures of this life, and the temptations of the peoples around them, and the variety of gods to be worshiped were just more appealing to them. But God did not abandon them.
He kept sending other slaves more prophets. He proclaimed through their lips the intention of His will to pay for sin, to redeem and rescue them, and He promised to sweeten the pot for them by pouring out abundant blessings on them in this life if they would simply trust and believe and be faithful that is, if they would come to the wedding feast. Some paid no attention and went their way, they just ignored God and His Word, and got on about life as they understood it and as they desired it. One went to his farm and another to his business.
The rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. This is the entire history of the prophets, boiled down to just a few words. It actually takes us up to the very last and greatest Prophet, Jesus Christ Himself.
The Gospel in here is in the announcement: "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' The sacrifice has been made, the livestock has been butchered, and now all is ready. And if you think that this announcement could not have been made in Old Testament times, read Isaiah 6:6-7. The angel of God takes the burning coal from the altar in heaven and touches the lips of Isaiah and pronounces that by that he is forgiven and cleansed. But what can forgive sins but the blood of Jesus Christ? And when is there smoldering coals on the altar except after the sacrifice?? In the courts of heaven, Jesus was already sacrificed, for God had determined in His immutable will to crucify Him. So, even in the Old Testament, the sacrifice had been made, and all was prepared, that the invitations could be issued to the wedding feast of Christ and His bride, the Church.
But they would not come. They vehemently and violently rejected the invitation and spurned their King! And so the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. We call that the destruction of Jerusalem in 66 to 70 A.D. For almost 1900 years it was the law that no Jew could enter or live in Jerusalem. Over the years, many did, but the law was not formally canceled until 1946.
Then we come into the story. "Then he said to his slaves (and these slaves were the Apostles), 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' This is about inviting those who were not originally on the guest list, and who had no reason to hope for a place at the banquet of life. It is about us Gentiles. And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. This is where we come in. This is Mission work and preaching of the Gospel, and the entire history of the Christian Church neatly summarized in one short verse.
We have been invited to the feast of salvation. Jesus has died, and taken our sins away, and removed that which stood between us and God and invited us into His feast and we shall have a foretaste of that heavenly feast this morning in the body and blood of Jesus Christ which is really present in, and with, and under the bread and wine of this sacrament. You are in the wedding hall even now, awaiting the arrival of the Groom. He will arrive in glory in the clouds.
The rest of the parable is the judgment scene. The King enters the feast and finds a man who is not wearing the wedding garment. In that society, the host of the wedding (usually the groom) would often provide each guest with a set of clothes. Most people only owned the clothing on their back, so this was a magnificent gesture of generosity, a tremendous valuing of those who were invited as guests, and a handy way to make sure everyone was wearing clean clothes and their best at the wedding.
Our wedding garment is the white robe of Christ's righteousness, received in Baptism and worn by trusting in Him for salvation. But this one man wasn't wearing the garment, which means that he refused the wedding garment, feeling that his clothing was good enough. So called Christians do the same when they reject the Word of God and insist on their own righteousness. False doctrine received and stubbornly clung to in the face of the clear teaching of God's Word is the same sort of thing, for when we despise the Word of God and hold to our own notions out of pride or stubborn unbelief, we have another Gospel, which is really no Gospel at all.
He despised and insulted the King, an act of blasphemy just as clinging to false doctrine is for us. And in the judgment, there will be no excuse, for God has provided that beautiful, seamless robe of righteousness for each of us in Christ. He had no defense, and neither will any unbeliever at that Last great Day. He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' And that pictures for us condemnation to hell where there will be no light from God, and great sorrow and regret and no escape forever.
Then Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen." Many are called by the Gospel. In fact, everyone who hears the Gospel proclaimed is called by the Holy Spirit and invited to come and partake of the wedding feast of salvation and eternal life. But not everyone heeds the invitation. Some reject it outright, as did the Jews, and some try to have it on their own terms. God described such people as not worthy of the dinner.
In our time there are many ways of having it your way, of refusing the wedding garment of Christ. There are false gods, and false Christs proclaimed and believed. Not everyone who speaks the name of Jesus knows who they are talking about. Many know a Jesus who did not and cannot offer us His body and blood in this holy meal, who does not and cannot cleanse us of sin in Baptism. Some speak of a Jesus who demands they save themselves. They say he demands a decision, or a prayer, or specific works of human effort and glory to enter the kingdom of heaven.
But the King said that everything was prepared. He said I have prepared my dinner. We can do nothing but receive the gift by taking God at His Word and trusting Him to do all that He has promised to do for Christ's sake. Others try to enter the dinner under the false assumption that everyone gets to go regardless of what they believe or whom. There are those who simply reject God's Word about hell, and call God unjust, unmerciful, and undesirable because He gives life and salvation to those believe, and rejects those who hate Him and reject Him in wide eyed unbelief. But it is His dinner.
He is the Lord of the dinner, of the kingdom, and of salvation, which He pours out as a gift upon all men, and which is received by grace through faith by believing His Word and trusting in His promises. It is those alone who wear the wedding garment of Christ's righteousness. All the others have forced their way into the feast, but they will not remain. They will find that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But have no fear! The call is the Gospel, and if you believe the Word of God and trust in Him, you have the garment, and you have been chosen. You are among the few and it is few, not even a majority of those who call themselves Christian. That is why Jesus said, Many are called, But . . ..
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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