1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 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.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 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. 11 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If this text was your only indication of God‘s character, what would be your opinion of Him? Because this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, we know that God is the king, but we see that this king gets very angry. He sends out his troops and destroys the murderers. He burns their city and then mocks the very same people he invited to his feast calling them ‘unworthy.’ But what might be the craziest thing about this king is his super strict dress code. He doesn’t just kick the underdressed man out. He has him bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Now, maybe you get a little uncomfortable with a text like this. You might find yourself wishing that Jesus would stick to good parables – happy, nice parables like the Prodigal Son or the ones about seeds and birds. Or, maybe, you wish that God always talked like He did in our Old Testament lesson (Is. 55:1-9) where He lovingly invites, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We like that kind of God. But the God Jesus presents here – maybe not as much. I mean, seriously, who wants a God who gets all bent out of shape over a guy who doesn’t have the right clothes? Why does God have to be such a hardnose?
Well, dear saints, what if the God that Jesus presents in this parable is just as lavish, just as loving and inviting, as we heard in that Old Testament lesson? In fact, I would argue that even the ugly things that happen in this parable show God’s protection and provision, His mercy, grace, and love.
The king just wants people at his feast. So, he sends out “save the date” cards. When the time to feast comes, he sends his servants to invite those who received those notifications. Still, nobody comes. If we’re being honest, this king is a little too eager to have people at his banquet. Wouldn’t it be better if he was a bit more aloof? “Oh, you don’t want to come? That’s cool!” But the king isn’t that way. He desperately wants these people there at his feast. He wants them to celebrate with him.
So, he sends out his servants again saying, “See, everything is ready. The food is hot, the wine is poured. The music is playing. Come to the feast!” But now the people act wickedly towards the king’s servants. Yes, some only ignore the invitation, but some treat the servants shamefully even kill them. Not a good idea! To attack the king’s servants is the same as attacking the king himself. This cannot stand. The king is done sending his beloved servants to these wicked ingrates. Now, he sends his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city. All the king wanted of them was their presence so he could provide the feast of feasts for them. But they didn’t want anything to do with him.
We should be surprised that the parable isn’t over yet. The story continues. The king still wants a party. He wants guests. He wants people with him to celebrate the marriage of his son. So, he sends more servants out into the streets to invite anyone they can find – good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Just fill the banquet hall with people so we can celebrate. The servants go, and here we see how the servants love their king. The servants know what had happened to the last batch of servants the king sent out. But out of love for their king, they go despite the danger. And surprisingly, they have success! The hall is filled. People arrive at the palace. And every guest finds a place prepared specifically for them at the table even though they have come directly off the street. These guests have come just as they are, and everything is ready.
Now, a lot could be said about the king’s servants. A whole sermon could be preached from this parable about how the king cares for his servants and avenges them when they are wronged. We could consider how God protects you as you go about your work, witnessing for Him as you invite others to the feast. But you are smart people and have been paying good attention. So, I’m going to let you fill in those blanks because this parable is mainly about being worthy to be at the king’s banquet. And there’s one more glitch, one more snafu, in this parable that reveals God’s grace and mercy.
The king enters the banquet hall and spots one of the guests who is there without a wedding garment. So, the king walks over to him and says, “Friend,” or to put it in today’s vernacular, “Dude, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” No response. Nothing but utter silence. The awkward pause turns into a tragic and even terrifying moment when the king summons his servants and renders swift judgment saying, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s shocking. This underdressed man gets punished even more severely than the people who murdered the king’s servants. They were only killed and had their city burned to the ground, but this underdressed, speechless man with no excuse, he gets hell.
Why? Why does the king get so bent out of shape when a guy, who has been brought in from the street, looks like a guy who has been brought in from the street? Well, here’s the thing. The wedding garment that this man was expected to be wearing but wasn’t, that garment would have been provided for him at the door. The king would have provided all the guests with wedding garments along with all the food and wine and entertainment. The king didn’t expect his guests to provide anything to be at the feast, not even the clothes on their backs. So, this underdressed man had despised the king’s gift which meant he despised the feast, despised the other guests at the party, despised the king’s son, and even despised the king himself.
So, dear saints, what does this parable teach us about God‘s grace? Well, there is no question God calls you just as you are. God certainly doesn’t need you at His feast, but He desperately wants you there. He wants you for Himself for all eternity. That is why God sent Jesus to shed His blood and die for the sins of all people (1 Tim. 4:10). In Christ’s death, everyone has been reconciled to the Father (2 Cor. 5:19). But the sad reality is that not everyone wants the forgiveness and restoration Christ has won and purchased. The eternal wedding banquet of God is only for beggars who have absolutely nothing and need everything provided for them – even the very clothes that they wear.
For the self-righteous and self-satisfied, the Gospel is insulting. Imagine going to a wedding reception and being told by the host, “You can’t come in here like that. You look and smell disgusting. Strip off all your clothes. Leave your filthy, smelly, smutty rags in the dumpster. Get hosed off and put these fine, fancy, designer clothes on instead. They’re yours to keep. By the way, we’re so glad you are here. Welcome! Enjoy the feast!” Now, if you are infected with lice, homeless, dirty, and hungry you will appreciate that cleansing and gift and have the most marvelous time at the feast. But if you like yourself just as you are, if you are comfortable with yourself in your sin and shame, hearing that is a total, complete insult.
Dear saints, God has invited you just as you are, but your God has no intention of you remaining just as you are. God loves you more than that. He transforms and elevates you. God has given you new clothes, splendent and radiant clothes. In your baptism, God closed you with the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:27). In that robe, you are without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; instead, you are holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27). Sure, you can despise that gift and treat it as though it is nothing. But you do so at your own peril.
God wants you at his feast, and at His feast there is only one rule: You don’t pay for anything. Everything is provided for you because of what Christ has done. And here’s the best part: Your God invites you now to this banquet where everything is ready. Come. You are invited just as you are. And God accepts you just as He has transformed and clothed you in Christ. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.