Good & Bad – Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14 for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 22:1-14

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 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.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Invite as many as you find to the wedding feastGo 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 the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Jesus tells a parable, you want to watch for something unexpected, something weird because that is usually the important clue to understanding the whole parable. But this parable is almost entirely unexpected.

The parable starts out great. A king is throwing a wedding feast for his son. So far, so good. A nice king, a nice event, good food. Let’s get this party started. The king sends out his servants to call the invited guests to come. So, notice this is the second invitation. The first one came in the mail, and now the king’s servants are out to let everyone know that it’s time to party. But nobody comes. Normally, people would fight and clamor to be at such an event, but not in this parable. The people don’t come. The parable is already getting weird.

The king issues a third invitation. He again sends out his servants to tell the guests, “Come to the wedding feast. The food is ready. The meat is laid out. The table is set. Come to the wedding feast.” But some pay no attention to the servants. One heads off to his farm, another walks off to his business. But it’s about to get more shocking.

The rest of the people seize the king’s servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them. Some way to treat the king. Ignore his letters, brush off his messengers, and then grab his servants, beat them up, treat them shamefully, and murder them. Usually, a murderer has some motive. Rarely, there are random murders – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this goes beyond that – it makes no sense.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Word of the murderous mob gets back to the king, and he is angry. (Ya think?) Yes, he’s angry – righteously so. The king is done sending his servants. Now, he sends in the troops. Justice falls swiftly. His army invades the city, destroys the murderers, and burns everything to the ground.

A day that began with the anticipation of the king for his party has turned into a day of blood, ruin, smoke, and ashes. You would think the king would be sitting in a tower of his castle looking over the smoldering ruins and just give up on his party. But the surprises keep coming because this king’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

The king turns around, almost as though nothing has happened, and says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” (Notice that. Those who were invited were not worthy.) “Go to the main roads and invite to the feast as many as you can find.”

This is the fourth invitation from the king and the third time the king sends out his servants to bring people into the wedding feast. And I bet those servants go out a little timidly, but they don’t dare refuse to go. They find people here and there. And you can almost imagine the first time the servants start to tell random people about the feast they are hesitant. “Excuse me. Yeah, um, hi. The king is throwing a wedding feast. What’s that? Yeah, ignore the smoke. The king would like you to come to his banquet. Um, there’s like a lot of good food. And, um, yeah. You should come.”

And they do. People start to come. In fact, now everyone these servants meet is eager to go to the feast. Good people, respectable people, and average Joes come. And bad people, ugly and smelly people, loosers, and even shady characters come. Everyone this third group of servants meet is invited to the banquet hall, and every seat is taken.

Finally, the king has what he wanted – a party, a hall full of guests celebrating the wedding of his son.

Now, the parable isn’t done, but we have to pause briefly here. The guests who were invited first, the guests who didn’t come and now lie on the ground dead, the king has called ‘unworthy.’ And the guests who finally fill the king’s hall are ‘both good and bad.’ This is an important detail, so don’t miss it.

This parable is about being worthy to be at the feast. But that worthiness has nothing to do with being good or bad. Nothing whatsoever.

The rest of the parable drives this home. The king’s hall is filled. The music is playing. The food is being distributed. The guests are having a good time. And, now, the king comes into the banquet room. He looks over the crowd smiling at the guests who have come to his feast. The Marriage Feast published 1864 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896But there over at table 72 is a man who has no wedding garment. He is there in his smelly, sweat-stained cloths with dusty, dirty feet.

The king makes his way through the crowd, dodges waiters with trays, and bumps the backs of a few chairs. He stands before the man with no wedding garment and says, “Hey pal, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?”

Remember, all these guests had been pulled off the street, so none of them would have had the proper attire to be at such a fancy feast. The wedding garments the king expected everyone to have would have been paid for by the king and given out by his servants at the door.

So, when the king addresses this rascal, “Hey buster, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” the man is speechless. The man had no excuse because he knows that he has been caught refusing and rejecting the king’s gift.

So, the king says to his servants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Fellow sinners, the Jesus who tells this parable is not soft. He isn’t a Precious Moments Jesus. Jesus tells this parable today to shake us up and remind us who He is – He is the Lord, the King of all Creation, the Holy Ruler of all things. And Jesus tells this parable to remind you who you are – unworthy beggars brought in from the street. Yet, He has graciously, lovingly, carefully made you worthy to be at His feast by His grace and His provision.

Bride of Christ Full of EyesYour God is into feasts and parties and merry-making. His feast goes on, and He wants you there. He wants you to celebrate with Him, so He has provided you with everything you need to be at the feast. Don’t reject His invitation. Don’t reject His robe of righteousness.

On the cross, Jesus provided everything for you. He gave everything so you could have it all. His poured out His own blood for you. He gives His perfect righteousness to you. In Christ, you are washed. In Christ, you are clothed. In Christ, you have no spot or wrinkle. In Christ, you are holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27).

So repent. Be dressed in the holiness and perfection of Jesus. Come to the wedding feast. Hear His invitation that your soul may live. And don’t be afraid to invite others to this feast no matter who they are.Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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What’s Wrong with You? – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic Lowered from the RoofAnd behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What’s wrong with you? Self-diagnosis is one thing. But if someone were to follow you for a week, see everywhere you went, hear everything you say, and know your every thought, what would they say is your biggest problem?

Maybe, they would say you spent too much time on your phone and not enough time paying attention to your kids. Maybe, they would say that you spread rumors about people when you don’t really know the facts. Maybe, they would sayyou get angry too easily and quickly.Maybe, they would say that you are lazy and waste time at your job. Or maybe, they would say that your schedule is too full and you are neglecting more important things.

Getting an outside, impartial observer can be helpful in diagnosing your problem. But even people who have total access to your life might not correctly diagnose your biggest, most central flaw.

Now, imagine the scene in this house. Jesus is in His hometown. Mark tells us (Mk. 2:1-12) that Jesus is in His own house preaching the Word of God to the people gathered there. So many people come to hear Him that there isn’t any more room inside the house. But imagine that you are one of the people who are blessed to be inside.

As Jesus preaches, you notice sounds of footsteps coming from the roof. Then you start to hear faint sounds of scraping and pounding making the walls shake slightly. Some sprinkles of dust fall from the ceiling. A few blows later, and a thin beam of light hits the floor. You look up toward that hole and you can just barely make out the shape of fingers reaching through the hole. Suddenly,the hole expands as a bunch of rubble falls to the floor. Dust and straw fill the room. You turn your head away for a moment so that the dust doesn’t fall into your eyes. And then, when it sounds as though the debris has settled, you look up once again and notice a huge bundle being slowly lowered by four ropes.

The bundle finally reaches the floor, and the sheets fall flat revealing a man. He lies there. One arm is bent over his chest and the other lies motionless stretched out at his side. His legs are crossed, but in the most unnatural way. You wait to see him maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, the only sign of life is his eyes darting back and forth and his chest rising as he breathes a little frantically. You diagnose the problem: this man is paralyzed. And you think to yourself, “Well, whoever brought him here did the right thing. If anyone can help this man, it’s Jesus.”

Jesus looks up at the hole in the roof. He sees the faces of the people who have safely lowered their friend down. Then, Christ looks at the man and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Think about this for a moment. This man’s biggest problem seems to be apparent to everyone but Jesus. The friends are probably up on the roof thinking to themselves, “Wait, what? We didn’t lug him up here, rip off the roof knowing that we’ll have to fix it ourselves, and lower him down to get forgiveness. What gives?”

But Jesus knows what this man’s biggest problem is. Christ knows what this man needs most. But don’t run too quickly with this either. Yes, the forgiveness of sins is what we need for our eternal welfare. Forgiveness is more important than food, clothes, shelter, and the ability to walk. But Jesus doesn’t always forgive people before He heals them.

In fact, in all the previous healings in Matthew, Jesus doesn’t follow this order. Chapter 8 contains Jesus’ first healing in Matthew. Jesus heals a leper and doesn’t absolve him. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant, but Jesus doesn’t announce forgiveness there. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and large crowds with no mention of forgiveness. He casts out demons from two men, no absolution. And as chapter 9 continues, Jesus keeps healing, but He’ll tell people that they are healed because of their faith in Him. And we can’t (at least we shouldn’t) conclude that in those instances Jesus cared more about their physical well-being than forgiveness.

Put that on the back-burner for a moment because Jesus isn’t done diagnosing people’s problems.

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconAfter telling the paralytic, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,”Jesus diagnoses the scribes’ problem. They were grumbling in their minds thinking, “Just who does this guy think he is? Forgiving sins is God’s job.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Notice that. Jesus says that doubting that He, a man, has the authority to forgive sins is evil. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus calls out their evil. And He proves that He has the authority to forgive sins. He tells the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home,”and the paralytic does, which proves that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins.

What’s your problem? I hope you see that it doesn’t matter so much what your problem is when you see that Jesus knows what it is (He does), and Jesus fixes the problem (whatever it is).

See Jesus’ pastoral heart. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and ‘shepherd’ is what ‘pastor’ means. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the needs of His flock, His sheep. Answering the question, “What’s your problem?” isn’t so important because Jesus knows what your problem is. He correctly diagnoses it and fixes it.

While everyone in that house – the listeners, the scribes, and the friends who lowered that man down from the roof – might have been scratching their heads when Jesus tells this paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the paralytic lying there heard the exact words he needed to hear. He needed to hear that his sins had been removed from him as far as the east is from the west, so that is precisely what Jesus gave him.

The scribes needed to hear Jesus call out their evil. And the crowds needed to see that God had given men (plural [foreshadowing Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to all Christians]) the authority to forgive sins on earth (Mk. 2:10). Jesus gives each person exactly what they needed.

So, you here today, what’s your problem? Well, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is here today. Surely, the Lord is in this place even if you, like Jacob in our Old Testament text, didn’t know it. This is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:10-17), right here in this sanctuary. Jesus is here to give you exactly what you need. Jesus is here to give you His Word, Law and Gospel. Jesus has called you to put off your old sinful self, to put away your sin, and to be renewed in your minds (Eph. 4:22-28).

Communion Cross with JesusJesus is here, here to give you exactly what you need. He comes to give you His Body which was hung on a cross to endure the wrath of God for your sins. He comes to give you His Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever your problem is – even if you are unclear what it is – Jesus is here to deliver you from it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.