St. Matthew 22:1-14
October 18, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
When St. Matthew tells a parable of the kingdom of heaven, it’s never about a static place, a place established by treaties and enclosed by borders. The kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom of the world, as Jesus tells Pontius Pilate. But neither is it far away. The Greek philosophers put heaven out beyond the stars, but the Bible puts the heavens a bit closer. The heavens are where the birds do their thing. It’s the atmosphere around us, in which we, too, live and move and breathe. The kingdom of the heavens extends to all kingdoms of the world as surely as the same air is shared by the United States and Russia alike.
The kingdom is not static. It’s established by the gracious action of the King. In fact, the kingdom of the heavens is found wherever its King is graciously reigning. It’s the reign of the heavens. Not rain, like the drops of water falling from the sky, but r-e-i-g-n, like a king reigning over his kingdom.
So in a parable about the kingdom, we need to look for the gracious activity of the king, and Jesus makes it very easy for us with this parable. Listen again for the gracious activity of the King.
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding, but they refused to come. Then he sent other slaves and said to them, ‘Tell the people who are invited, “Look ! I prepared my dinner. My bulls and fattened calves are killed, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding.”’ “But they paid no attention and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, and the rest took his slaves, shamefully mistreated them, and murdered them. The king became angry. He sent his soldiers and they killed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves: ‘The wedding is ready, but the people who were invited didn’t deserve the honor. Now go where the roads leave the city, and call everyone you find there to the wedding.’ Those slaves went out on the roads and brought in all the people they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man without a wedding garment. ‘Friend,’ he asked him, ‘how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ The man couldn’t say a thing. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him out into the dark. There he will cry and grind his teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:1-14 AAT).
There are three distinct actions of the king in the parable—his preparation, his call, and his election. Similarly, the reign of the heavens is God’s gracious activity of preparing, calling, and electing.
Heaven’s Reign Is an Eternal Feast to which You Are Called and Elected
The point of comparison begins with the preparation of a feast. But it’s not just any feast; it’s a wedding feast for a son. The parable further highlights a particular aspect of the festal preparation: the sacrifice of bulls and fattened calves. Heaven’s reign is also prepared by a sacrifice, though one of significantly greater worth. The Son Himself is the sacrifice. But a dead groom does no one any good. This feast can only go on if the Son is also raised from the dead. The reign of the heavens is prepared by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The heavenly reign of God is divine monergism. This is a term that means God alone does all of the work to establish and rule His kingdom. And this offends human sensibilities. In the parable, the king’s feast is rejected in favor of the farm and business. In other words, the invitees are more interested in their own works and preparations than those of the king.
God indeed created us humans to be working creatures. It’s woven into our nature. But sin has corrupted the natural goodness of work. God created man to work in His creation for the good of His creation. But sin turned work upside down. Humans are still wired to work (even if they’re lazy bums), but all work becomes self-serving. And that means, before God, works become our way of showing God the righteousness we so firmly believe that we have.
To the religion of works, the sacrifice of God appears to be utter foolishness. But by faith, you can see beyond the outward foolishness to find the eternal gift that is beyond. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on the cross is the preparation for an eternal marriage feast. But it can’t be eternal if the groom is dead. Christ is risen, and His reign is an eternal reign; death no longer has mastery over Him.
The second gracious activity of the heavenly reign of God is that He sends out servants to invite people to participate in the unending feast. In the parable, two separate invitations go out. The first group rejects the invitation; the second group unexpectedly finds itself in the middle of a feast they would have never dreamed to be a part of. This reveals that the invitation to heaven’s reign is an invitation of grace.
When a bride and groom put together a wedding invitation list, they must necessarily weigh who to include and who to leave off the list. To make it onto the list, you need to have contributed something significant in the lives of the happy couple. And that’s what makes the behavior of the invitees in the parable so absurd. They unanimously reject the invitation. Some even go so far as to actively persecute and kill the ones who bear the message. Now, you might politely decline a wedding invitation if you have other obligations, but no one in their right mind would murder a mailman for bringing you a wedding invitation. This parable highlights the absurdity of rejecting the Word of God.
The reign of God is offered as a free gift; He’s made all the preparations and simply invites His guests to participate in His riches. It is unthinkable that such a gracious invitation would be met with such hostility, but that’s the way with the world. Grace is so contrary to the thinking of man that the message of the free gift of God in Christ actually incites people to violence.
The parable is a not-so-veiled reference to the Israelites, who made a habit of persecuting and killing preachers of grace. The prophets who God sent were persecuted and executed. Because of the thanklessness of the Jewish people, Jesus sent His own apostles outside the city, that is, to the Gentiles. But history repeats itself. Martin Luther once remarked that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower; it pours out the riches of heaven for a time, then moves on because people are not thankful for it. They go to their fields or their businesses or outright fight against the preachers of grace.
But the invitation to heaven’s reign is given with reckless abandon. God pours His wrath on those who reject His gracious invitation, but His wrath motivates Him to send out the invitation again and with greater zeal. His only desire is to have His hall filled with guests. Strangers and peasants have no claim, no expectation to be invited to a king’s feast, but that’s the way it is with the kingdom of heaven. The most unlikely, the sinners, are the ones who get the invite. It’s all grace. All gift.
But then there’s the curious epilogue to the parable. After the gratuitous inviting comes to an end and the wedding hall is filled, the king still reigns in a third way. He goes in to observe the guest and finds one without proper attire. Now, anyone who’s ever shown up to a party underdressed knows that embarrassment. But what is the attire required under God’s reign? It’s not a certain fabric or cut. It’s not a coat and tie or a dress that falls below the knee. It’s not business casual or dress for comfort. The attire in the kingdom of God is a spiritual dress. The attire is the righteousness of Christ.
The righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that is outside of you and independent of you, covers your unrighteousness. The blood and righteousness of Jesus are your beauty and glorious dress. It adorns your soul with gladness. Christ’s perfect obedience and willing submission to the Law of God cover all of your rebellion and sin.
But how do you come by this attire? Imagine if the next wedding invitation you get comes with a perfectly tailored suit or a new dress and pair of shoes that fits you just right. You’d not have to worry about showing up underdressed or overdressed. The host himself provides you with the proper attire. So it is with the gracious invitation of heaven’s kingdom. The righteous attire that covers you and grants you entrance to the feast comes with the invitation. That is, the righteousness of Christ is a gift that comes with His word of invitation. This is your election. If you are covered in Christ’s righteousness, then you are chosen. The eternal election of God is election in Christ.
The parable of the wedding feast shows the gracious activity of God reigning over His kingdom. He is the one who prepares an eternal feast for His guests. He graciously invites the most unlikely guests, and He makes them suitable for His kingdom by providing them with a glorious dress in the righteousness of Christ.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard